CHICAGO (CBS) — The hotly-disputed Lincoln Yards project is moving forward, after receiving a key vote from the City Council Zoning Committee on Thursday.
By a 9-4 vote, the Zoning Committee signed off on the $6 billion development planned along the North Branch of the Chicago River, between Bucktown and Lincoln Park.
Zoning Committee chairman Ald. James Cappleman (46th) wanted to delay the vote, but by a 9-4 vote, the committee overrode him, and moved the project one step closer to final approval.
The project has undergone a number of changes in recent weeks. In January, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), in whose ward the project would be built, rejected plans for a soccer stadium and an entertainment district run by Live Nation as part of the project. Developer Sterling Bay agreed to replace those with park space.
On Tuesday, the developers agreed to double the amount of affordable housing units that would be built on-site, to 600, and reducing the number of affordable units that would be built outside the project, but within at least 3 miles, from 600 to 300.
Shortly before the Zoning Committee meeting on Thursday, Hopkins announced a reduction in the overall density of the project – from a cap of 15 million square feet of buildings to 14.5 million square feet – and a reduction in the maximum height of the tallest building, from 650 feet to 595 feet.
The overall project would include 6,000 new residential units, 21 acres of open space, new bridges across the Chicago River, a relocated Metra station, an extension of the 606 trail, and new water taxi stops on the river.
However, opponents of the project have said the affordable housing that would be built would still be too expensive for too many people.
The 600 units of affordable housing would be earmarked for residents who make no more than 60 percent of the area’s median income, but Cappleman previously had said he wanted the plan revised to make those units available to people making no more than 30 percent of the area’s median income.
Critics have accused Hopkins and the Emanuel administration of rushing the approval process before a new mayor and new aldermen take office in May.
“It’s about rubber-stamped deals, like is going on here, against meaningful community participation. It’s about false promises of affordability against the need for economic justice,” one woman said during public comments at the Zoning Committee meeting.
The project still requires a Finance Committee vote on $1.3 billion in tax increment financing to help fund the project. The full City Council then must approve both the TIF money and the zoning changes needed to go forward.
Opponents of the project have said they want to see a final plan for Lincoln Yards before the City Council approves tax benefits for the project.
“The $1.3 billion is not an investment. It is something that will be put on the head of every homeowner in the city to make up the property tax deficit. It is fiscally irresponsible. It is a rush job put out by an outgoing mayor, and we need to stop it,” said Andre Vasquez, a candidate for alderman in the 40th Ward.
The Finance Committee is not scheduled to meet before the next City Council meeting, so a final vote likely would come in April.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has praised the project, calling it a job creation engine for decades to come. Both mayoral candidates, however, have said a City Council vote on the project should be delayed until after a new mayor and new aldermen are sworn in.